A quick chat with JK Simmons about his supernatural villain role in Kung Fu Panda 3

2016-03-21 16:00

Los Angeles - Oscar winner JK Simmons voices the supernatural villain Kai in Kung Fu Panda 3.

The latest adventure in the popular franchise once again stars Jack Black as Po, the loveable, legendary Dragon Warrior. Gearing up for his most daunting challenge so far, Po meets his long lost biological father Li (Bryan Cranston) who takes him to meet the panda relatives he never knew existed – in a remote mountain village. 

Po has to confront Kai, a fearsome foe who is terrorising China.

JK Simmons sat down for an interview at DreamWorks Animation’s Glendale studios in Southern California.

What was the appeal of Kung Fu Panda 3?

I am a fan of the whole franchise and when they asked me to do this role, my first question was: ‘is the same creative team making it?’ It is indeed the same team, so I was very happy to jump in. My kids, who are now teenagers, are also fans; they really enjoyed the first two movies.

What kind of villain is Kai? 

Kai comes from the spirit world. He is some kind of super yak, ox, beast sort of creature! He is great fun to play and I love that there is more to him than just being the villain (he is funny and vulnerable). 

Kai’s backstory is that he and Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) were brothers in arms, many, many years ago and his justification for the things that he’s doing now is that he feels he was betrayed by his friend. That’s what drives him and all his evil doings in this story. I basically steal everybody’s chi - everybody’s life force - and Po is the main opponent standing in my way.

How scary is Kai?

There was a fine line that we walked with that. As Alessandro and Jen were directing me in the booth, I would give a range of options in terms of how scary I was being. We want the character to be scary enough to have some stakes involved, to have a real sense of dread, and the sense of Kai being a worthy opponent, but we did not want to scare younger kids out of the theatre and have angry moms and dads saying, ‘it was too frightening for my kid.’ 

My part of that job was to give the directors a range of options and then it’s up to the creative people to make the final decisions.

How enjoyable is it playing bad guys? You have tackled quite a few…

It is nice to go back and forth. I guess a few times lately the high-profile roles I’ve done have been more bad guy stuff, but really most of the time I play good guys. It’s true though that a juicy villain part is always fun. I just like good writing, whether it’s an animated family movie or a film like Whiplash

How interesting in general is animation compared to live action?

It is challenging and interesting and if the story is well-conceived and well-written and well-executed, it’s rewarding and fun in some of the same ways and some different ways. You are usually doing a line at a time or short scenes that are easy to memorize, so I actually tend to end up closing my eyes. 

Often with animation, you’re not even in the room with the other actors. The only downside is the fact that you don’t usually get to see the other actors a lot. You don’t get that ‘hanging out with the cast’ kind of camaraderie. But they have very talented guys, voice actors, who come in to read the scenes with you. It is really fun and easy compared to live action because you are not doing hair or make up… well in my case, make up!”

Did you do any recordings with Jack in studio?

No, we just overlapped one day at the studio. We’ve met before and goofed around on a couple of things such as charity events. We have never really worked together, although actually, we were both in a movie called The Jackal (1997), many years ago; it was the year I got married. We didn’t have any scenes together but I’ve been a fan of his since then. I’m also a big fan of his music. My kids love his band, Tenacious D. Jack is a great musician, a hilarious everyman and a genius comic actor.”

Catch Kung Fu Panda 3 in South African cinemas from Friday, 18 March.

(Photo; Dream Works Animations)

Click here to read the Kung Fu Panda 3 review.

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